The Cretan Diet
Several studies have shown the Cretan Diet to be one of the
healthiest in the world, involving lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh
fish, and moderate amounts of wine.
The Cretan Diet is the healthiest in the world. Several studies have shown this, and fortunately the diet is not just healthy but also very tasty. It blends pulses, olive oil, fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of fresh fish… and the robust but health-giving red wine too.
In addition, the diet incorporates most of the other requisites for healthy eating, including nuts, spices, garlic, bread, cheese and meat. Some people refuse some foods such as meat and cheese, believing them to be unhealthy, but the Cretan Diet shows that a moderate amount of all these items is definitely good for the body.
The Cretan Diet
Research begun in 1956 by the innovative American nutritionist Dr Ancel Keys compared diets, diseases and death rates in seven countries across the world, including Japan, Italy and the USA. Greek studies were undertaken in Corfu and Crete. Crete had by far the lowest mortality rates for heart diseases and cancer. In Finland, for example, there were 972 such deaths per 100,000 people in 1986, when the studies were still continuing. The figure for Crete was just 38 deaths, the lowest in the world. Similarly Crete had the lowest rate of deaths from other causes, and lowest incidence of disease. So impressed was Dr Keys by the findings, that he began to follow the Cretan Diet himself… and lived to be 100!
Part of the secret is the quantity of fresh vegetables
eaten. Cretans consume three times as many vegetables as other Europeans. These
are rich in vitamins and fatty acids, which help fight off heart disease. Most
are also organically grown in an ideal climate: mild winters and moderate
temperatures in early summer.
Oranges are a Regular Part of the Cretan Diet
Cretans are also said to eat four times as much fruit as the average southern European, and six times as much as their northern European counterparts. Most notable among the fruits is the orange, which grows in such profusion on the island, even in winter, that sometimes people cannot even give away the crop of oranges on their land. These provide numerous vitamins in the diet, notably vitamin C. Grapes are eaten as well as turned into wine, grape skins having antioxidant elements which are believed to offer protection against cancer.
Fish: A Big Part of the Cretan Diet
Although it is a large island, its long, thin shape means that nowhere is so far from the sea that fresh fish cannot be obtained. There are also trout farms in the interior. As well as being full of vitamins, fish oils are known to help protect against heart disease.
In a further study of heart patients in Lyon, French doctors divided their patients into two groups. One group was given a conventional low fat/low cholesterol diet, as recommended by the US Society of Cardiology for sufferers from heart disease. The second group was put on the Cretan Diet. The results were astonishing. Mortality rates in the second group were 75% lower than the first group after two years.
Cretan Olive Oil
Crete produces especially good-quality olive oil. Olive oil reduces the amount of unhealthy LDL cholesterol in the blood stream, which can lead to clogged arteries, but increases the amount of HDL cholesterol, which helps to break down these fatty deposits. Next time you have a Greek salad, there is no need to refuse the olive oil in the belief that it is bad for you. Far better to cut down on dairy products, for example eating your bread without butter, as the Cretans do, and only having a modest amount of cheese in the diet.
See also our page about visiting an olive oil factory.
Moderate amounts of wine, especially red wine, are also believed to be generally good for health. Red wine has anti-oxidants which help fight several diseases, and studies have shown that people who drink a moderate amount of wine (roughly one glass per day for women and two for men) live far longer than either tee-totallers or heavy drinkers.
Other Crete pages
This Airbnb in the quiet village of Malaxa, a 30-minute drive into the hills above Chania, is a peaceful retreat with a delightful and thoughtful artist owner, with wonderful views and amenities.
Driving central Crete in three days gives you time to see the highlights including the Minoan palaces at Knossos and Phaistos, the beaches and the Diktean Cave.
Greece Travel Secrets suggests where to stay in Eastern Crete with our favourite hotels in Zakros, Elounds, Sitia, Agios Nikolaos, Istron Bay, Myrtos, Neapolis.
Driving on Crete is the best way to see Greece’s biggest island and here is our driving advice and some information about Greek driving regulations.
Visiting Knossos near Iraklion is one of the best things to do on Crete, and this page has a history of the site with visitor information.
Elounda on Crete's north coast is a popular holiday town with a pretty harbour, from where you can take day trips by boat to see the island of Spinalonga.
The First Corfu Beer Festival took place in Arillas in North West Corfu and celebrated the beer of Bavaria and of Corfu, in the Ionian islands of Greece.
Athens, an Eater's Guide to the City, is published by Culinary Backstreets, who do walking food tours in Athens and the book recommends the best places to eat.
What was daily life as a Minoan like on Crete, living in palaces like the ones at Knossos, Malia, Phaistos, and Zakros, and what were their religious beliefs?
Greece Travel Secrets visits Crete and learns about making rakomelo from Jorgos Kourmoulis in Agouseliana.
Corfu olives are an important part of this Greek island's economy, with an estimated 3-4 million trees producing olive oil of exceptional quality.
The Goules Taverna in Goulediana, south of Rethymnon, has been called one of the best tavernas on Crete and Greece Travel Secrets recently visited them.
The Battle of Crete during World War 2 inspired several books and took place with an airborne invasion over Maleme on the north coast of the island.
Two of the best cocktail bars in Athens, MoMix Kerameikos and The Clumsies, are making creative cocktails using that most Greek of Greek spirits, Metaxa.
Ancient Gortina is an archaeological site in southern Crete famous for the church of Ayios Titos and for the Law Code inscribed here, the first in Europe.
Corfu’s special cuisine includes dishes like sofrito and pastitsade and the chance to try ginger beer and kumquats.
The area east from Paleohora along the south-west coast of Crete includes resorts like Agia Galini, gorges like the Imbros Gorge and quieter towns like Sfakia.
The Greece Travel Secrets guide to Zaros in Central Crete, including what to do, where to stay, and where to eat.
Greece Travel Secrets recommends where to stay in Central Crete including hotels in Matala, Ayia Galini, and Zaros.
A visit to the Museum of Samos Wine to learn about the muscat grapes that produce the best dessert wines in the world and also the Greek spirit, Metaxa.
Visiting Santorini wineries is a popular activity on this Greek island in the Cyclades, whose volcanic soil provides a distinctive terroir.
Greek alcoholic drinks include distinctly Greek drinks such as ouzo, Metaxa, retsina, raki, tsikoudia and tsipouro, but also Greek wines and Greek beers.
The Diktean or Diktaean Cave, also known as the Psychro Cave, near the village of Psychro in eastern Crete, is said to be the birthplace of Zeus.
Icon painting is a centuries-old tradition in Crete and the rest of Greece, and Greece Travel Secrets meets a modern-day icon painter in Elounda on Crete.
Sir Arthur Evans is the archaeologist famous for the excavations he made at the royal palace of Knossos on Crete.
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